A Valley Full of Jazz
annual festival features dozens of area jazz events
Every spring for the past four decades, Eau Claire has played host to some of the world’s finest jazz musicians. Notable performers such as Michael Brecker, Slide Hampton, Benny Golson, Christian McBride, Peter Erskine, and many, many others have come to town to jam with UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz Ensemble I. Now, in its 42nd year, the Eau Claire Jazz Festival has undergone a huge transformation under the leadership of Artistic Director Robert Baca and Executive Director Patty Horecki.
New events have been added, including a jazz art crawl at various venues around the city and a month of jazz performances at locations as diverse as the Acoustic Café to Festival Foods. With each new addition, the organizers hope to bring the festival to a wider audience and allow more artists and musicians the opportunity to display their talents.
The centerpiece of this month-long celebration is the concert series beginning on Thursday night (April 2) and concluding Sunday afternoon (April 5). This year the festival welcomes legendary jazz trombonist Jiggs Whigham and renowned tenor saxophonist Chris Potter for the Friday and Saturday concerts and jazz violinist Randy Sabien for an additional performance on Sunday at the Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls.
Jiggs Whigham has been performing on multiple continents for the past four decades. Originally from Cleveland, he began his career in 1960 playing lead trombone and featured soloist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Stan Kenton Orchestras. A couple of years later he had success across the pond as a soloist with the Kurt Edelhagen Jazz Orchestra in Cologne, Germany. Since his debut in Germany, Whigham has gone on to international acclaim as a performer and educator. Just one look at his schedule and one can see that he is in near constant demand throughout Europe and United States.
Chris Potter is easily one of the finest saxophone players on the planet at this time, or at any time for that matter. Born in 1971, Potter was raised on an eclectic mix of music that honed his musical imagination. From an early age, Potter had wide-ranging musical tastes and drew the attention of musicians that heard his young talent. Originally from South Carolina, Potter moved to New York in 1989. There he studied with pianist Kenny Werner and eventually with legendary bebop trumpeter Red Rodney. Since graduating from the Manhattan School of Music in 1993 he has gone on to perform with the Mingus Big Band, James Moody, Paul Motian, Steve Swallow, Steely Dan, and has even released nine albums as a band leader. His music represents a fresh, new direction for jazz – one that draws on a wide range musical influences but is steeped in the traditions of the genre.
Randy Sabien has been called “the past, present, and future of jazz violin” by NPR. One listen to his eclectic recordings and it’s easy to see how this Berklee College of Music graduate and northern Wisconsinite (he lives in Hayward) has made waves in the world of jazz violin. Originally learning to play rock and roll, Sabien was turned on to jazz by the legendary Stephane Grappelli. Since founding the jazz string department at Berklee in 1978, Sabien has recorded ten CDs with his own label, Fiddlehead Music. In addition, Sabien was recently named head of the string department at the McNally Smith College of Music in Minneapolis.
These artists are the cornerstone of the 42nd annual Eau Claire Jazz Festival. Chris Potter and Jiggs Whigham perform with UWEC Jazz I Friday and Saturday night at Memorial High School. Randy Sabien performs Sunday afternoon with Jazz I at the Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls. Make sure to check them out and support live jazz in the Chippewa Valley.
Chris Potter + Jiggs Whigham • April 3 and 4 • Memorial High School, Eau Claire • 7pm • $16 general, $9 seniors, $8 students • www.eauclairejazz.com
Randy Sabien • April 5 • Heyde Center for the Arts, 3 S High St., Chippewa Falls • noon • $10 general, $9 seniors, $5 students • www.eauclairejazz.com